Covid Omicron: Variant will push Europe hospitals towards brink, says WHO

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  • Coronavirus pandemic

Image source, ReutersImage caption, Portugal is one of the European countries where the Omicron strain is already dominant

A surge of Omicron cases will push European health systems towards the brink, the World Health Organization's top official in the continent has warned.

Hans Kluge said "another storm" was coming and governments should brace for significant increases in cases.

His warning came as several countries re-imposed social distancing restrictions.

Germany announced new post-Christmas rules including limits on parties.

Meanwhile Portugal ordered bars and nightclubs to shut from December 26.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out any new restrictions for England before Christmas, but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all announced curbs on social mixing.

Omicron was first identified in southern Africa last month but has now spread around the globe.

It has been detected in at least 38 of the 53 countries in the WHO's European region – which includes Russia and Turkey – and is dominant in several, the organisation says.

"We can see another storm coming. Within weeks, Omicron will dominate in more countries of the region, pushing already stretched health systems further to the brink," said Mr Kluge, quoted by Reuters.

"The sheer volume of new Covid-19 infections could lead to more hospitalisations and widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services.

"Governments and authorities need to prepare our response systems for a significant surge."

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Portugal announced on Tuesday that nightclubs and bars would have to close, and made working from home obligatory from 26 December until 9 January.

Outdoor gatherings would be limited to 10 people.

In Sweden, bars, cafes and restaurants will only be able to serve seated guests from Wednesday, and all employees have been asked to work from home.

Health Minister Lena Hallengren said she expected Omicron cases to rise and warned the "the burden on the health care system is increasing."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that nightclubs would be closed and private gatherings restricted to 10 people from 28 December. Football matches from that date will also be played behind closed doors.

Recommending stricter social distancing measures, the country's public health agency warned that with intensive care units already at high occupancy, a major surge in cases could overburden the health system.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch government announced a strict lockdown on Monday, but BBC Europe correspondent Nick Beake says other European leaders want to delay tighter controls until after the festive period if possible.

Europe has already seen more than 89 million cases and 1.5 million Covid-related deaths, according to the latest EU figures.

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To play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.Media caption, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: "An event cancelled is better than a life cancelled"

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